Last years Hereditary seemed to divide horror fans somewhere down the middle; there were people in the camp of “it’s a little slow”, they didn’t dig the studied nature of the film nor the undercurrents of terror, preferring instead a more immediate pay off. People in the second camp believe, as I do, that it was quite the masterpiece, and probably one of the first real horrors that we’ve had in a long time – a film that is actually designed to fuck you up. Ari Aster has declared that he misses the kind of film that haunts you for years and that was the kind of film he set out to make. I believe he succeeded.
Midsommar is his sophomore effort, the second film from such a creative and austere mind could only come with high expectations, and while I have read very good reviews it seems it is also managing to continue Aster’s polarizing aesthetic.
The film itself deals with the character Dani (a mesmerising Florence Pugh) who has recently suffered a devastating family tragedy and her boyfriend Christian (‘everyman’ John Reynor) who, according to his friends, has been intending to break up with Dani for the last year and a half of their four-year relationship. She decides to tag along with Christian and his friends to the Swedish Midsummer festival taking place in the hometown of buddy Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren). The festival itself only takes place every 90 years and so to attend appears to be quite the honour, and though obviously grief stricken and struggling to hide her sorrow Dani makes a valiant effort to get along with her boyfriends pals. Upon arrival they are greeted with magic mushrooms and realise that the sun doesn’t really go down in Sweden at that particular time of year and so for the duration of the film, give or take one or two moments, all of the horror happens in broad daylight.
The day to day goings-on of course are initially innocuous and almost quaint, but all the flowers and sunshine bely a more sinister festival and people; and once the horror starts (as it does after over an hour of anticipatory unease) it doesn’t let up until the final chilling moment.
The characterisations here are generous and humane; take Christian for example, while we see him through Dani’s eyes the ease with which he could have been demonised is a road not taken by Aster. Instead, Christian is shown to be disengaged and no longer invested in the relationship. Dani finds herself perhaps more needing of Christian then he wishes her to; but none of this is treated as individual faults, rather just a miss match of types.
All the characters are allowed to be shades of grey and I appreciated that each character had their own unique goals and ideas and none were set up to be stereotypical fodder.
Dani herself is a worthy character that you like spending time with, she is a wholly realised person and her viewpoint is often the audiences main guide into this world.
It’s hard to review a film like this with so much in the detail and a plot that needs to be revealed at the pace it does. Having said that, I will say that it was clever, compulsively watchable, gut churning, extremely well acted and of course, the direction is unique, cold and graphic with lush visceral cinematography.
When it comes to second films by new horror wunderkinds, Ari Aster leaves Jordan Peele in the dust with his silly plot-holed ‘Us’.
Like Hereditary this would lend it self to repeat viewings, there are moments/images/hints throughout the film that bleed into the rest of the narrative and their acknowledgment would only assist in giving the film more texture and nuance.
Whilst it can be seen as the ultimate break-up movie it also has shocks a plenty and never shies away from showing us the consequences of every action; and though it fails to surprise in its intense resolution the journey is worth more than the destination.
Some moments pass by too fast to be fully registered, but when they come back to you later their full horror still impacts. It’s a film to burrow into, watch, cringe, absorb and then unpack at your leisure.
So, though it is not as relentlessly wrenching as Hereditary, very few films could or would be.
By Jove, Aster’s done it again; mission accomplished.